UN chief concerned over Israeli settlements

JERUSALEM (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern Friday over Israel’s latest announcement on going ahead with plans to build more than 1,000 homes in two isolated Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with his spokesman calling the move a “violation of international law.”

The Israeli announcement on Thursday also drew swift U.S. condemnation while Palestinian officials complained that it was undercutting U.S. peace efforts at a sensitive time.

Israeli settlement building lies at the heart of the impasse over restarting negotiations on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians hope to build their state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.

The United States is currently trying to get the long dormant peace talks back on track but the Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table as long as Israeli settlement construction continues.

On Friday, Ban’s spokesman said the U.N. chief was concerned about the latest move.

“These are unhelpful decisions that undermine progress towards the two-state solution,” spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “They constitute a deeply worrisome trend at a moment of ongoing efforts to re-launch peace negotiations.”

Also Friday, unknown vandals torched two vehicles in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem in what police said appears to be the latest attack carried out by Jewish extremists.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the words “price tag” were found sprayed on a wall near the cars in Sheikh Jarrah.

The phrase is usually used by Jewish extremists to protest what they perceive to be the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies, and to let Palestinians know who attacked them.

Vandals have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases with “price tag” graffiti over the years. In recent weeks, there has been a steady stream of such incidents, including an Arab Christian graveyard vandalized on Thursday and a Jerusalem church defaced two weeks ago.

Rosenfeld said police were searching for the perpetrators.

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